Santa Barbara Music Club Free Concerts
On Saturday, February 9 at 3 p.m. the Santa Barbara Music Club will present another program in its popular series of concerts of beautiful Classical music. This afternoon’s program features an ensemble cast of performers: pianists Allen Bishop and Paula Hatley, bassoonists Simon Knight and Paul Mori, flutist Sherylle Englander, clarinetist Per Elmfors, oboist Adelle Rodkey, and violinist Claude-Lise Lafranque. Each performer contributes to a broad array of chamber-music pieces spanning almost two centuries. On the repertoire roster is a collection of works that play with conventions of formal organization, “formal musings:” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756 - 1791) Sonata in G major, K. 379 for violin and piano; the Quatuor à vents by Jean Françaix (1912 - 1997); the Sonate, Op. 71, for bassoon and piano by Charles Koechlin (1867 - 1950); and Four Old Tunes by Gordon Jacob (1895 - 1984). This concert, co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara Public Library, will be held at its Faulkner Gallery, 40 E Anapamu St, Santa Barbara. Admission is free.
The earliest chamber work on today’s program is Mozart’s Sonata in G major, K. 379 for violin and piano, composed in 1781, and belongs to a group of the six so-called “Auernhammer Sonatas,” named after the dedicatee Josepha von Auernhammer (1758 - 1820). Mozart composed the G-major sonata along with two others shortly after he settled permanently in Vienna. Most historical accounts and program notes mention in brief a time Mozart composed this piece, but that is a bit of an understatement. The composer himself penned the following words about the work’s premiere: “today (for I am writing at eleven o'clock at night) we had a concert, where three of my compositions were performed-new ones . . a sonata with violin accompaniment for myself, which I composed last night between eleven and twelve (but in order to be able to finish it, I only wrote out the accompaniment and retained my own part in my head).” At the risk of perpetuating the narrative of Mozart’s ostensibly superhuman abilities, one hour is very brief! As Claude-Lise Lafranque and Allen Bishop demonstrate, the sonata reverses the established formal standard of the fast-slow-fast movements in Mozart’s day. The outer movements are both slow and in G major, but the middle movement is the fast one and in G minor. The bookend movements, depending on one’s listening experience, can serve to buttress the central movement.
Although composing at uncanny speeds and at young age have informed our inherited narrative of Mozart, he is not the only composer to have accomplished these feats. Felix Mendelssohn and Camille Saint-Saëns come to mind, yet less well-known is the neo-classical French composer Jean Françaix. He started composing at age six and began studying with Nadia Boulanger at age 10. When he reached the ripe old age of 21, Françaix wrote the explosively energetic Quatuor à vents (Quartet for winds) of 1933. The neo-classical stamp of the quartet lies in its formal structure, which uses the four-movement classical symphony structure - fast-slow-dance-fast - a collective effort to hold on to history at a time which every aspect of musical compositional tradition was held suspect. Indeed, 1933 was a time when all manner of harmonic languages were flying from the coop of tonality, but Françaix used an entirely accessible language. In fact, Sherylle Englander, Per Elmfors Adelle Rodkey, and Simon Knight reveal the quartet as more than a little tonally referential. The piece oftentimes settles on key centers, making the neo-classicism of the piece all the more traditional.
Interestingly enough, Charles Koechlin composed the Sonate, Op. 71 for piano and bassoon in 1918, fifteen years before Françaix composed his wind quartet. Yet the sonata did not premiere until 1938, five years after the Françaix quartet. Even more astounding is that Op. 71 did not appear in print until 1990! To say there was overlap between the final two pieces on this afternoon’s program - like saying Mozart composed K. 379 briefly - would be an understatement. Yet Koechlin’s placement in Western music history situates him in the generation preceding that of the neo-classical one to which Françaix belongs. Koechlin shares company with early-modernist composers who had inherited and had to deal with the problematic traditions of Romanticism with regard to form, pitch and harmonic content, and so forth. According to Koechlin’s earliest biographer Jules Guieysse, the composer reconciled his Romantic inheritance by completely revising his compositional style with Op. 71 and a number of other contemporaneous chamber works. As Paul Mori and Paula Hatley show, the sonata does not follow a standard formal structure for three-movement works, par for the stylistic revolution. Yet the character and harmony of the piece reveals strong models in Fauré and Chopin, some of the most romantic of the Romantics. So the nigh-contemporary pieces of the quartet for winds and sonata for flute and bassoon show two sides of the same inter-bellum French coin of Western classical music.
The latest piece on this afternoon’s program, performed again by the wind players of the Françaix quartet, is the charming set of Four Old Tunes, by British composer Gordon Jacobs. Arranged in 1975 for woodwind quartet, the piece comprises four British folk tunes: “Bobby Shafto,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Tell mee, Daphne (after Giles Farnaby),” and “Charlie Is My Darling.” Despite having been written within the past 50 years, one may mistake this piece with the fin-de-siècle compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams. These pieces evoke pastoral imagery and timbres, in addition to summoning English history through folk song. While these pieces do not lend themselves to classical formal structures like the previous works on today’s program, Gordon grouped four “movements” together as a whole, which does fit well into today’s theme of “formal musings.” In addition, the work complements those of Françaix and Koechlin: on the one hand, the similar performing forces offer listeners points of comparison and contrast with the Françaix; on the other hand, Jacob’s placement in music history is not unlike that of Koechlin in that both found themselves having to reconcile inherited traditions of Western composition, which ultimately yielded pieces of great lyricism.
The mission of the Santa Barbara Music Club is to contribute to the musical life of our community through the following actions:
● Presentation of an annual series of concerts, free to the public, featuring outstanding solo and chamber music performances by Performing Members and invited guests;
● Presentation of community outreach activities, including bringing great music to residents of area retirement homes;
● Aiding and encouraging musical education by the disbursement of scholarships to talented local music students.
For information on this or other Santa Barbara Music Club programs and performing artists, visit SBMusicClub.org.